Remember Oak Creek – Time is not a neutral force

By Jahnavi Jagannath

This summer, we stood at a vigil for Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year old Muslim American girl brutally murdered near her local mosque. Two years ago, we mourned in pews of a church, shaken by the murder of eight Methodist African Americans in their AME church. Five years ago, we prayed and loved and came together in the aftermath of the Oak Creek massacre, when a neo-Nazi white supremacist murdered six Sikh Americans in their gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Today, we must stand together again.

At Nabra’s vigil, a woman stepped up to the podium and read a poem describing a time in which we stood up. She spoke about intolerance, hatred based on race and religion. She called us to look, to open our eyes—and to act upon what we saw. She finished the poem, closed the notebook, and said, “I wrote this poem four years ago. I didn’t want it to still be true today, but here I am. And here it is.”

When the Oak Creek tragedy happened, I read about it, briefly discussed it, and let it fade back into the news. It got swallowed in the 24-hour news cycle for most of my peers and community members; our Hindu community didn’t care beyond a muttered condolence because “we don’t wear turbans.” Our white suburban news sources mentioned the shooting and glossed over the fact that it was motivated by hate. I found myself out of touch with a South Asian identity; rather, I was Indian, I was Hindu, I distanced myself rather than standing with. At the time of the shooting, women in the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin were cooking Langar, the communal meal eaten after prayer. That same day, we finished our bhajans and shared a meal, without mention of the murders happening halfway across the country.

The distancing of identity was baked into me as I grew up. “Put on a bindi, you look Muslim without one.” “It’s fine that we get pulled aside at airports. They’re just being careful.” “You should marry whoever you want, except a Muslim.” The well-meaning people who built this into me as I was a child were the same people who were infuriated when Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani were shot—but they hold the same biases against Muslims that motivated the murder in the first place. I didn’t know how to explain—it’s not that “we” look like “them.” It’s that there IS no “us” and “them. There can’t be.”

I find no way to accept the apathy we showed in the time of the Oak Creek tragedy, but now have found a stronger base of a South Asian identity that stands in solidarity and not separation. Today, we remember Paramjit Kaur, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Prakash Singh, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, and Suveg Singh, brothers and fathers, a mother and wife, people who loved music and prayer and the outdoors. We remember Punjab Singh, a visiting Sikh priest and teacher who has been paralyzed since the shooting. The Sikh community in Oak Creek has always been one of open doors and support, but has reached its roots broader and deeper into the larger community since the shooting. Over time, people who have been most deeply and personally impacted have gone on to pursue lives of helping others and living fully, embodying the spirit of the Sikh principle “Chardi Kala”—relentless optimism in the face of adversity.

I have drawn inspiration from this, trying to weave it into my life. I remind myself that optimism is essential for movement. Time is not a neutral force. I find myself constantly at a trembling balance of inspiration and desperation, hope and despair, thinking about the potential I have and the potential we as a community have, to make change. We move through time, and as long as hate is born and reborn into our societies, our poems about pain and intolerance and loss will stay relevant. Time is not a neutral force. Thus, we will keep tracking acts of hate, lobbying to congressional offices, holding each other up as community members as we try to make changes in all the ways we do. Every minute we spend in working for a better world, with less ignorance and less fear and more acceptance—those minutes are not in vain.

At times, this is a paradox. I think about the fact that these friendships, coalitions, partnerships exist. I think of collaborative art and of community accountability and the unbearable giddiness that comes as one freely exists in this world. Though these can be achieved, though we have enough food to share and water to distribute and kindness to give universally, we choose not to. I feel an ache that we have chosen fear and hatred as our tools, building societal structure that intrinsically denies equality and joy. The poem of the brave woman who spoke at Nabra’s vigil will stay relevant until we stop choosing hate. Organizers and community movements didn’t just happen: they take work. It is our responsibility to do this work, to create a world in which her poem will be about the past, and not about the present.

This is a large call to action. The tremendous optimism and despair and the collision this causes in my head at times becomes too much—at those times, I find comfort in this:

“We have the resources at our disposal to create a nonviolent world, a world in which all people are adequately fed and clothed and housed and educated and valued. These are not insoluble problems, and this is not an impossible dream. It’s a dream worth dreaming, although the improbability of this attainment will likely break your heart time and time again. Just as such a dream is worth dreaming, such a life is worth living. A life lived in pursuit of nonviolence, of justice, and of equality. It will be a life of aching, suffering, disappointment, and sadness. It will be a fulfilling life, too, though—a life of compassion, and truth and beauty and magnificence and wonderment and love. And the very act of living such a life will give you the strength to withstand its multitude of heartbreaks.”1

-K. Estabrook – The Scholar, the Teacher, the Saint: The Life, Work, and Nonviolent Philosophy of James M. Lawson, Jr

On this five year anniversary, we stand with the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. We say the names of Paramjit Kaur, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Prakash Singh, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, and Suveg Singh, remembering them as whole people and not merely numbers. We, as a South Asian community, must stand with rather than separating. Our liberation is bound together, and it’s our time to remember that time is not a neutral force: we have the potential to create the world we want.

Jahnavi Jagannath is a rising senior at Rice University, where she studies Policy Studies, Sociology, and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Studying this broad (and seemingly odd) combination of disciplines, she is interested in the intersections of race, gender, and environmental justice, and hopes to pursue law or policy in the future. She currently serves as a policy intern at SAALT. She tries to maintain relentless optimism in her life and work, and looks forward to the opportunity to be a part of her communities in Houston and Memphis to further progress.

 

Remember Oak Creek – Tragedy and Resilience

By Anirvan Chatterjee

Where were you five years ago, on August 5, 2012?

From storytelling on the streets of Berkeley to the mass murder at the Oak Creek Gurdwara, it’s the fifth anniversary of a day I won’t easily forget.

I started the day feeling anxious. For years, my partner Barnali Ghosh and I had been collecting stories of Desi activists in our hometown of Berkeley, California. There were so many! Someone could even do a walking tour, we joked. And then we tried to make it happen.

We started pulling together stories of Berkeley’s South Asian activism. We found a striking photo of protesters in saris in Karma of Brown Folk.

Barnali dove into UC Berkeley’s archives, discovering stories of Ghadar Party freedom fighters. I interviewed our friend “Tinku” Ali Ishtiaq, a Bangladeshi American activist I’d met during an anti-war protest. Barnali drew a map of Berkeley, and we marked points associated with each story, hoping to find a walkable path connecting them. Then we turned our research into a script, incorporating storytelling, visuals, and street theater.

On August 5, 2012, we tried running our very first Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour for the participants of Bay Area Solidarity Summer—emerging Desi activists ages 15–21. We gathered on Telegraph Avenue and began to walk, sharing stories of queer activism, student movements, and connections to non-Desi struggles. Along the way, we busted out some street theater to bring the stories alive. The young activists were loving it, and my nervousness slowly faded.

On the UC Berkeley campus, we told the story of Kartar Singh Sarabha, a young Sikh man who moved to Berkeley in 1912 hoping to study at the university, but ended up becoming a freedom fighter organizing Indian immigrants against British colonial rule. Barnali narrated, and I played the part of the young revolutionary who had walked the streets that we were walking today. By the time the story ended, we were both inspired and emotionally exhausted.

It was near the end of the tour when I saw one of the participants staring at her phone as we were about to cross the street. She showed me what she was looking at—a text from her mother saying something terrible was happening at a gurudwara in Wisconsin, and that she should stay safe. I took in the news and tried to project an air of calm. I assured her that it was fine, that we were all there together, and asked her to avoid sharing the bad news with others until after the tour had ended.

The last story on the tour, at Berkeley High School, was particularly difficult. First, we set the scene by asking participants to read excerpts from American Backlash, a report by SAALT documenting the wave of violent xenophobia that rocked our communities after 9/11. Then we told the story of post-9/11 backlash attacks at Berkeley High, and how a group of primarily Sikh and Muslim students built a multiracial coalition to take on hate and rebuild safety for impacted communities.

Past and present were colliding. I kept thinking of Sikh families under attack in a place of sanctuary, even as we were sharing stories of a century of Sikh American resistance to racism and colonialism.

The tour ended, and we returned back to camp. The Bay Area Solidarity Summer organizers shared the bad news with everyone, and made space for us to talk and mourn together.

We have run 120 more Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tours since that terrible day in 2012. Over the past five years of historical storytelling, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how easy it is to frame the story of South Asian America to tell dramatically different narratives.

Some of us tell stories of South Asian success, of immigrant doctors and engineers, suburban homes and model minority dreams, spelling bee champions and brown faces in the White House. We worked hard, and the United States has come to love us.

Some of us tell stories of hatred, violence, and othering, starting with the enslavement of Mary Fisher around the 1690s, the Bellingham Riots, the Tide of Turbans, Dotbusters hate crimes, waves of backlash after 9/11, and anti-Muslim attacks in the age of Trump. The United States hates us, and all people of color.

Both of these narratives are true, but for us, they’re just not helpful. We’re very open about our bias. The stories we want to emphasize are about resilience, connection, solidarity, and agency: Punjabi-Mexican and Black-Bengali families, immigrant doctors offering care in rural communities, Indian and Irish freedom fighters dreaming together of liberation, youth organizing against waves of hate, and suburban Desi feminists standing up to violence within their communities.

Five years after the Oak Creek shootings, we continue to mourn for Paramjit Kaur, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Prakash Singh, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, and Suveg Singh. But the story doesn’t end with victimization by a White nationalist.

In the wake of the violence, the families of Oak Creek counted their losses. They mourned. They rebuilt together. And they continued to stand against hate alongside their neighbors—a story told in Deepa Iyer’s We Too Sing America. Five years after the Oak Creek shooting, it’s these quiet acts of resilience and activism in the face of hate that stay with us. And as we decide how to tell the histories of our community, we hope these are the ones we will remember, retell, and build on.

Anirvan Chatterjee works with the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action and Bay Area Solidarity Summer. He and Barnali Ghosh curate the Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour.

#RememberOakCreek – Write a note of support

August 5, 2017 will be the five-year anniversary of the tragic mass shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where a known white supremacist entered a Sikh gurdwara and murdered six people and injured many others.

SAALT will be in Oak Creek on August 5th to join our community and national partners for the annual Chardi Kala day of remembrance and honor those who lost their lives during this tragedy.

Send Your Message of Support to the
Oak Creek Community Through SAALT

When we go to Oak Creek, we want to bring as many voices of love and support with us as we can. For those of you who can’t make it, please email a brief message of love, support, or solidarity to our communities there using the subject line “Remember Oak Creek” to lakshmi@saalt.org by Thursday, August 3rd. We will also be sharing a series of reflections by community leaders next week through our blog and on social media.

We hope that you can take a few minutes to write a message of reflection and strength to our communities. We’ll hand deliver these notes so that our communities know you have their backs, you have them in your hearts, and that we’re all #United4Action.

As we observe this anniversary, we must take a moment to see this tragedy in the broader context of racial injustice in our country and the tremendous spike in hate violence our communities are experiencing at this time. Our diverse communities continue to be the targets of discriminatory government policies and violent attacks. Our response must continue to be unity. Thank you in advance for writing a letter of support, and thank you for always staying committed to our ongoing mission of justice and dignity for all.

This Week in Hate – July 27 – The Normalization of Hate Incidents

Prepared for SAALT by Radha Modi

The election and presidency of Donald Trump has normalized the occurrence of hate incidents across communities. Since his election, SAALT has documented 117 incidents of hate violence targeting those who identify or are perceived as Muslim, South Asian, Arab, Middle Eastern, and Asian. The number of incidents has surpassed the total from the previous year and the average per week is about four incidents (not taking into account spikes in hate incidents post attacks that are labeled as “terrorist”). Undoubtedly, at this rate, the total number of incidents will double by the end of the year.

Consistently, verbal and written hate speech and threats are the most common type of violence Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim face. The total number of 47 verbal and written threats since the election is double that of the previous year. This is a concerning trend as it may be an indicator of the growing sanctioning of hate speech in the U.S. Just over the last month, an Augusta-area Mosque near Atlanta, GA received eight separate voice messages threatening “to shoot, bomb and otherwise attack mosques and attack Muslims in America.” The perpetrator has yet to be identified. Atlanta Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in response has sent out warnings to mosques and CAIR offices across the U.S. to be on alert.

The pie-chart on the right demonstrates that the rise in the number of hate incidents are regionally relevant regarding occurrence and reporting. More than two-thirds of documented hate violence occurred in the Eastern and Western regions of the U.S. where many immigrant, Muslim, and South Asian communities are concentrated. The higher proportion of documented hate crimes in these regions is due to a variety of issues related to ease of reporting, visibility of the crime, and visibility of the victim. As a result, the spotlight on these regions should be viewed critically.

The normalization of hate incidents is a critical issue facing marginalized communities. A few noted signs of normalization in the media are: 1. the slow pick up of hate violence reports by news media, 2. the infrequent reporting of hate incidents by major news outlets, and 3. the reduced overall air time on hate incidents targeting communities of color. Local news media are more likely than major national news media to report hate incidents. Further, there is a three to four-week lag between the occurrence of an incident and the reporting by local news. This lag may be intentional on the part of targeted communities to protect victims and report incidents to the news once all the details are discerned. Yet, the lag of almost a month in combination with overall reduced air time on hate violence, particularly against communities of color, may also be indications of the normalization of this type of violence and thus supposedly not as newsworthy.

This Week in Hate: July 17

Prepared for SAALT by Radha Modi

For the first time since the election of Donald Trump, the total number of hate incidents against those who identify or are perceived as Muslim, South Asian, Arab, Middle Eastern, and Asian has surpassed the total from the previous year. Currently, 113 hate incidents have occurred since November 8, 2016. At this rate, we suspect hate incidents for the first year of Trump presidency to be double that of the previous year.

Three major categories of hate incidents are verbal/written threats, physical assaults, and property damage. Verbal and written threats are by far the most common category of hate incidents. These types of threats are typically verbal harassment of the victim by strangers. Recently, a middle-aged white man, Federick Sorell, followed a Black Muslim couple for 20 blocks and barraged them with racist language such as: “Take off the fucking burka, this is America; go back to your fucking country.” Additionally, he threatened to run them over with his car and made a gesture of a pulling a trigger on a gun at them leaving the couple terrified.

Hate incidents such as these not only signal a rise in Islamophobia but also reveal the ways Islamophobia intersects with anti-Blackness and xenophobia. Sorell indicated that he harassed the couple because he was fearful for his life. This is a commonly used defense to justify violence towards Black communities. Further, Sorell yells to the victims to “go back to your country,” an anti-immigrant sentiment that supports white supremacist notions of America as a white only country.  As shown, on-the-ground harassment is often a combination of various forms of hate.  

The fight against hate crimes and racial profiling will then involve collaborative community work across communities of color. South Asians will need to show up on the front lines for issues facing Black, Native, Muslim, Latinx, queer, and immigrant communities as these issues are intersections of multiple systems of oppression.   

 

 

This Week In Hate – July 12

Prepared for SAALT by Radha Modi

Since the election of Donald Trump on November 8, 2016, SAALT has documented 110 hate incidents targeting those who are perceived or identify as Muslim, South Asian, Sikh, Middle Eastern, Arab, or Asian.

This total will soon surpass the hate incidents documented in SAALT’s latest report, “Power, Pain, Potential,” which documented 110 hate incidents targeting our communities during the divisive President elections from November 1, 2015 to November 7, 2016.

Three of the most common targets of hate incidents have been mosques/Muslim organizations, women, and youth.  One-third of the documented hate incidents have been towards women, with a majority of assaults towards women wearing hijabs. The perpetrators, often white men, threatened the women and tried to pull off their hijabs.  For instance, in Chicago, a group of young women wearing hijabs was verbally harassed by a white man shouting, “If you don’t like it in this country, leave.”

Another 25% of the hate incidents targeted mosques and Muslim organizations. Mosques and Muslim organizations have received threatening correspondence or incurred property damage including vandalism and arson.  One recent instance occurred at the Murfreesboro Mosque in Tennessee, where unknown vandals spray painted obscenities on the exterior of the mosque and draped bacon on the front door handle.

The third major target of hate incidents has been youth, where 23% of hate incidents involved students and young people. Many of these incidents occurred on the streets, where complete strangers were the assailants, which continues to be a concern as young people are also facing bullying from peers as well. One such incident occurred during the early morning hours of June 18th.  Nabra Hassanen, a 17 year old Muslim girl wearing a hijab, was out with her friends for a late night snack during Ramadan just a short walk from their mosque in Maryland. A white Latino man approached and harassed the group of friends. All of the youth were able to escape harm except for Nabra who was beaten and kidnapped. Her body was later found with signs of assault.

With the dehumanization of those who are perceived or identify as Muslim, South Asian, Middle Eastern, Arab, or Asian occurring at the intersections of gender, religion, race, and age, it is no surprise that women are the most common target of hate incidents.

From July 5-10, Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist who wears a hijab, has endured an onslaught of threats against her for the use of the word “jihad” in a speech on fighting against hate and injustice and defending vulnerable communities.  Right wing media outlets and members of the administration have been leading the way on inciting violence towards her by misrepresenting her speech as a call for violence. Sarsour’s use of the term, which translates to “struggle”, has led to threats to her life, including vile threats of rape from Islamophobes.

With hate crimes on the rise, Americans across the country fear they will be targeted next. Americans, regardless of race, religion, identity, or national origin, deserve to live in peace and pray in safety.

Hate of any kind makes our country less safe. Those who threaten our communities or promote policies to demonize and rip our families apart are trying to drag our country backwards.  SAALT will continue to push for laws and policies that protect our shared future, that embrace the ideals of equality and freedom, and make our country stronger together.

SAALT welcomes the We Build Community 2017-2018 cohort

From June 14-16, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) coordinated the fourth year of We Build Community (WBC), our signature capacity and skills-building program that brings together four diverse community-based organizations from across the country to participate in a year-long series of workshops, trainings, and ongoing technical assistance to support, deepen, and strengthen their work. As part of the WBC program, each organization is provided a sub-grant to support and build their civic engagement capacity that connects South Asian American communities with broader movements for racial, immigrant, and gender justice.

This year’s WBC cohort includes Asha Kiran, India Home, Jakara Movement, and Sapna NYC, four social change organizations and members of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations who have developed innovative and thoughtful projects to mobilize our communities via effective civic engagement. Learn more about their respective WBC projects here.

In June, WBC participants engaged in three days of workshops led by SAALT staff and trainers on immigrant justice, campaign building, community assessments, the power of data, fundraising, and communications. SAALT thanks the trainers who provided vital insights at the WBC convening, including Lindsay Schubiner (Center for New Community); Terri Johnson (Center for New Community); Radha Modi; and Kaajal Shah (K Shah Consulting).

“It’s been really exciting to be part of the We Build Community cohort and meet other organizations working throughout the country,” stated Tehmina Brohi, Director of Advocacy and Economic Empowerment, Sapna NYC. “One part of Sapna NYC’s mission is building a collective voice for change and We Build Community is one of the beginnings of building that collective voice for change.”

Tehmina Brohi discusses Sapna NYC’s mission and how We Build Community helps create a collective voice for change.

Lakshman Kalasapudi, Deputy Director of India Home, an organization that serves New York City’s Indian and larger South Asian senior citizen immigrant community, noted, “Through what we learned at the We Build Community convening and through our grant project, we will definitely be able to further our mission by expanding our own services and expanding our reach to South Asian older adults across our communities.”

SAALT would like to thank our supporters and donors who make the We Build Community program possible, and to our WBC cohort who continue to inspire and hold the line for our communities nationwide every day. Together, we are working towards the goal of a more just and inclusive society in the United States.

Please consider making a generous donation to SAALT today. Your help will ensure We Build Community remains a key part of the long term goal of justice for all Americans.

SAALT Declines to Attend Today’s Department of Justice Hate Crimes Summit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national civil rights and racial justice organization, will not participate in today’s Hate Crimes Summit organized by the U.S. Department of Justice due to the Trump Administration’s ongoing efforts to disregard and undermine the civil rights of all Americans, regardless of our appearance, how we pray, or where we were born. Illustrating a continued denial of civil rights on the part of the current Administration, today marks the first day that partial implementation of the Muslim Ban resumes after the Supreme Court’s announcement earlier this week.

SAALT and other invited organizations for today’s Summit learned only 36 hours ago that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will provide opening remarks this morning and will not answer questions from press or attendees. Given that this serves as a photo opportunity, we are not convinced the Summit will be a forum for substantive dialogue. Combating hate violence is central to SAALT’s mission, and we have been deeply committed to developing solutions that stem the tide of violence targeting South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Arab, and Middle Eastern Americans since our inception.

Furthermore, SAALT is profoundly disturbed by the infrastructure this Administration has created to combat hate crimes. Established in a February 9 executive order, the Department of Justice’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety has made it a top priority to criminalize undocumented immigrants. Unconscionably, the Department of Justice has embedded a “Hate Crimes Subcommittee” into this taskforce, equating the criminality of perpetrators of hate violence with those who are undocumented.

Among their many transgressions, this Department of Justice has deeply undermined the trust that is foundational for communities to feel comfortable reporting hate crimes to law enforcement. From issuing and repeatedly appealing an unconstitutional Muslim Ban to publically supporting Texas’ draconian state immigration enforcement law, SB 4, to rolling back police accountability measures, this Administration has broadcast a very clear message to all of our communities. Given this reality, we believe that the Attorney General’s remarks and the subsequent discussion today will only amount to window dressing.

South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab Americans are experiencing levels of hate violence not seen since the year after 9/11. In the seven months since the 2016 presidential election SAALT has documented 104 incidents of violence against our communities. We believe discriminatory government policies, executive orders, and litigation have actively contributed to the very rise in hate violence that the Department of Justice will attempt to discuss today.

SAALT has a long and successful history of engagement with the Department of Justice on behalf of our communities across numerous administrations. However, the current Department of Justice continues to be at the center of policies that criminalize our communities. We have worked with our allies within and outside government for over fifteen years to improve policies on reporting and investigating hate crimes. SAALT remains deeply committed to being rooted in community and building our power with everyone impacted by the rising tide of violence in our nation. We will continue to fight the discriminatory policies, executive orders, and litigation coming out of this Administration.

Contact:  Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director, SAALT.  suman@saalt.org

SAALT Objects to the Supreme Court’s Partial Reinstatement of the “Muslim Ban”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national South Asian racial justice and civil rights organization, strongly objects to the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate part of President Trump’s “Muslim Ban”. It is disappointing that the highest court in our land will hear the federal government’s appeal despite federal appellate courts repeatedly striking down and staying key parts of the “Muslim Ban” as unquestionably unconstitutional.
“Reinstating any part of this administration’s patently discriminatory ‘Muslim Ban’ is contrary to the values of the United States and the ideals this country was founded on,” stated Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT. “The President’s executive orders, and the Supreme Court’s decision to partially reinstate the ban, amounts to government sanctioned discrimination. It does not make America safe, it makes America afraid.”
Individuals from the six majority-Muslim countries identified in the President’s executive orders who do not have a “bona fide” relationship with a person or organization in the United States will be barred from entering the country. This administration’s dogged pursuit of a “Muslim Ban” has provided a prominent platform for white supremacists and anti-immigrant voices.
The “Muslim ban” discriminates against travelers as well as any Muslim or individual perceived as Muslim in the United States.  These individuals have the right to walk down the street without fear of harassment or violence by virtue of how they pray, what language they speak, or their nation of origin. Today’s Supreme Court announcement is coupled with the Administration’s announcement on Friday that it will no longer actively support efforts to counter Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other far-right hate groups as part of the “Countering Violent Extremism” program. This change is divorced from the reality of terrorism in the United States, as Klan groups continue to multiply and feel emboldened in the current political climate.
South Asians are the fastest growing demographic group in the nation, yet this administration’s policies, under the guise of national security, paint millions of people with suspicion and make our communities question their place in this quintessential nation of immigrants. SAALT calls on Congress to overturn the President’s “Muslim Ban” to safeguard our national integrity and to state clearly and convincingly that hate and fear will not be allowed guide our country’s policies now or in the future. We reject any attempt to discriminate and divide us base upon how we pray, what we look like, and where we come from.
Contact: Vivek Trivedi – vivek@saalt.org

SAALT Mourns Death of Muslim Teenager, Calls on Police to Investigate Possible Hate Crime

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national South Asian racial justice and civil rights organization, mourns the death of Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old Reston, Virginia resident who was killed as she left her All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) mosque on Sunday morning. Though police swiftly arrested and charged a local man with the killing, on Monday Fairfax County Police stated on Twitter, “We are NOT investigating this murder as a hate crime.” This early and impulsive decision to rule out racial or religious bias as a possible factor in this killing sends the wrong message to South Asian and Muslim communities across the country who continue to face violence and intimidation every day. SAALT calls on law enforcement to vigorously investigate all possible motives that led to this tragic loss of life.

“Given the pandemic of hate violence aimed at Muslim and South Asian communities in the United States, it is nothing less than tone deaf for the police to categorically dismiss hate as a possible factor in the tragic killing of a young Muslim girl who was attacked while walking out of her mosque during Ramadan,” stated Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT. “The police have a sworn duty to protect and serve everyone, including Muslim and South Asian communities. A complete investigation into the facts is the only way to achieve justice for Nabra.”

SAALT has documented over 100 incidents of hate targeting Muslim, Arab, and South Asian Americans in 2017 alone. Shootings in Kansas and Washington State, along with vandalism and arson attacks of mosques, homes, and businesses across the country are only a few of the tragic incidents our communities have experienced this year.

Nabra’s killing is not the first incident that leads our communities, and communities of color writ large, to distrust law enforcement. In recent years the police have repeatedly brutalized our communities with impunity. In 2015 Sureshbhai Patel, a senior citizen with limited English proficiency, was partially paralyzed after being slammed to the ground by an Alabama police officer. During a traffic stop in 2016, Philando Castile was shot dead by a police officer while the entire incident was live-streamed by Castile’s girlfriend. Despite video evidence in both cases, the accused officers were acquitted of all charges.

On the other hand, the police are equally quick to the trigger when dismissing hate as a possible motivating factor in violence aimed at our communities. Our communities have experienced far greater hate violence than has been documented due to severe underreporting of hate crimes by local law enforcement. In 2014, the Bureau of Justice Statistics suggested the actual number of anti-Muslim hate crimes was likely 6,000 or more than what was registered, despite the FBI only reporting 154 hate crime incidents.

The federal government has also been wholly inadequate in protecting our communities. A May 2, 2017 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Responses to the Increase in Religious Hate Crimes” did not include a single Muslim or Arab organization or expert witness to provide testimony, despite dramatic spikes in anti-Muslim hate violence across the country that are nearing levels not seen since the year after 9/11. This erasure of reality and unwillingness to understand the problem on the part of our government is completely unacceptable.

Nabra’s tragic death rattles our already embattled communities, and should shake the entire nation. Parents should not fear for their child’s safety because they wear a hijab or attend a mosque. Every young person should be guaranteed a life free of hate. This is the promise our country continues to break every day. We as a nation must collectively pledge, early and often, with words and actions, that we are NOT going to compromise the principles of religious freedom out of fear or hate, and that we will protect the rights of all Americans always.

CONTACT: Vivek Trivedi – vivek@saalt.org